The Washington Nationals did what they said they were going to do all along on Saturday, shutting down ace right-handed pitcher Steven Strasburg for the rest of the season.
I really never believed that it was going to happen. But it has.
Back in February, Nats GM Mike Rizzo swore up and down to anyone who would listen that Strasburg would be on an innings limit, just a year and a half after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in 2010.
Manager Davey Johnson said he made the decision all by himself, without any help from anybody, after Strasburg’s outing on Friday night in which he labored through three innings, giving up three runs on five hits and three walks.
“I made this call,” Johnson said. “My job is to do what I think is best for the player, and this is what’s best.”
Rizzo didn’t seem miffed by Johnson’s independence, echoing Johnson’s comments.
“I think the accumulation of the focus problems and the physical fatigue took its toll on him,” Rizzo said. “I think what the doctors had prescribed for him, the innings parameters, were right on. It was a prudent time to pull the plug. It was a plan we had since Feb. 1. I don’t think too many people should be surprised by it.”
But people are surprised, and the reason is because the Nationals are actually steaming toward their first playoff appearance since the start of FDR’s first presidential administration. That’s 1933, friends, when the Senators won the American League pennant and we were still recovering from the Great Depression.
When Rizzo made his comments in spring training, no one thought the Nats would be 85-53, 6 1/2 games up on the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, with a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs on September 7.
But here they are. They are in first, heading towards a division title, owning the best record in baseball. Surely, something could have been done to stretch Strasburg out so that he can play in the city’s first baseball playoffs in 79 years.
Yet the Nationals are sticking to their guns. They say they have their best pitcher’s long-term health in mind, and that is absolutely commendable.
But it is not what’s best for the team.
Clearly, the controversy was weighing on Strasburg’s mind as well. That’s the biggest reason why Johnson decided to pull the plug one start early. Strasburg was expected to make one final start against New York on Wednesday. However, he’ll finish 2012 with 159 1/3 innings, short of the 165-170 innings Rizzo had set as the benchmark back in February.
Pitching in his place will be veteran John Lannan, who has been making $5 million this year pitching for AAA, solely to take over for Strasburg when he hit his innings limit. He joins a rotation that is one of the best in baseball, and probably the best in the National League. Now, Gio Gonzalez (2.98 ERA) becomes the ace, with Jordan Zimmerman (2.99 ERA), Edwin Jackson (3.63) and Ross Detweiler (3.15) all bumped up one spot.
It’s a rotation that is still good enough to win, especially if the Nats keep swinging the bats the way they have the last couple weeks.
But make no mistake. They are going to miss Steven Strasburg. Removing him from the rotation takes one of the five best pitchers in the National League out of the game.
And that can only make the rest of the NL playoff field, the Atlanta Braves in particular, very happy indeed.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, the Phils are now just 18 games out. Time to make their move!